A resident, who requested to only be identified by his last name Wilson, stands among his belongings piled in the yard of the home he was recently evicted from Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in a neighborhood three blocks from East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, Colo. Wilson had inherited the paid-off home from his parents, but was unable to keep up with the rising property taxes of the home. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

Colorado landlords could soon be prohibited from evicting tenants or declining to renew leases without "just cause," if a bill passed by the state House becomes law. 

Under House Bill 1171, landlords could only evict or terminate residential leases if the tenant does something wrong, such as failing to pay rent, violating lease agreements, committing illegal activity, refusing to let the landlord enter the property with advanced notice, and refusing to sign a new but substantially similar lease, among other conditions. 

Landlords could evict or terminate leases in certain no-fault circumstances, such as to renovate or demolish the property or to move themselves or their family into the property. However, in these cases, the landlord would have to give the tenant 90 days’ notice and pay the tenant two to three months’ worth of rent to help them pay for new housing. 

"This legislation will help keep more Colorado families from being unfairly pushed out," said bill sponsor Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver. "Evictions are disproportionately filed against low-income and people of color, creating barriers to qualifying for future housing and perpetuating the cycle of housing insecurity."

House representatives passed the bill in a 38-26 vote on Wednesday, sending it to the Senate for consideration. 

Only Democrats supported the bill, while all Republicans and seven Democrats voted against it: Reps. Shannon Bird, Bob Marshall, Karen McCormick, Barbara McLachlan, Marc Snyder, Mary Young and House Speaker Julie McCluskie. 

Sponsors passed extensive amendments to the bill to try to ease critics' complaints, including reducing the required notice period from 120 days to 90 days; allowing landlords to provide similar housing amenities in lieu of paying tenants the relocation assistance; and, exempting mobile homes, short-term rentals and landlords who rent out part of their primary residence. 

The biggest change was exempting smaller landlords from having to pay the relocation assistance. Exempted landlords are those whose rental income is less than $6,500 per month, after payment of the mortgage and associated property fees. 

Opponents, though, said the changes didn't go far enough. They introduced a dozen unsuccessful amendments that sought to, in part, get rid of the relocation assistance requirement; only require relocation assistance if a landlord did not provide proper notice; exempt landlords with less than five dwelling units from the relocation assistance requirement; and, shorten the required notice period to 60 days or 30 days. 

Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, said it is unreasonable to require both a 90-day notice and relocation assistance, saying it is too harsh on landlords and will push them out of the rental market. 

Under the bill, landlords would have to pay tenants two months’ rent to evict them or terminate their lease under the no-fault circumstances. Landlords would have to pay three months’ rent if the tenant is low-income, has a disability, is younger than 18 years old or is 60 years old or older. 

"Any reasonable tenant should be able to go out and look for a new place to live within that (90-day) timeframe," Soper said. "A landlord shouldn't then be on the hook after that notice to pay for up to 90 days more to the tenant after they've left the premises and are now living somewhere else." 

Other opponents argued that the bill goes too far by treating the decision not to renew a lease as an eviction, saying it essentially forces landlords into endless leases. They also noted that the 90-day notice for terminating leases makes single-month leases functionally impossible to enforce.

During a committee hearing on the bill, Gary Jones, a 70-year-old landlord of two multi-unit-converted houses in Greeley, said he could not afford to pay thousands of dollars to tenants to terminate their leases. He added that he’s previously chosen not to renew leases for reasons that would not qualify under the bill, saying some tenants have been “obnoxious” and “unsavory” without breaking the lease or without proof of their behavior. 

“It puts the burden on people like me,” Jones said. “I’m not rich, I’m just a single guy and I can’t afford it. ... It feels like you’re trying to punish me for being an honest landlord and keep me from making a living.”

Proponents of the bill argued that it is intended to prevent landlords from discriminating or retaliating against tenants by evicting them or terminating their leases. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, is a housing attorney who was evicted himself as a teenager. Mabrey and other housing attorneys testified that landlords had refused to renew their clients’ leases after calling them racial slurs or propositioning them for sex. Mabrey said these actions don’t matter to the court, as state law currently allows landlords to not renew leases for any reason, or for no reason at all.

Dozens of local renters also testified on the bill, saying they’ve experienced unfair evictions.

Rita Carrasco said her landlord kicked her out after her family was victim to a drive-by shooting at their home, leaving Carrasco and her 2-year-old child to live in a car for a month. Erika Reyes said her landlord tried to evict her by falsely claiming she missed a rent payment after Reyes repeatedly asked them to address the apartment's cockroaches, mold and water damage. 

“We are extremely vulnerable,” Reyes said. “HB 1171 will protect tenants like me from landlord retaliation for advocating for repairs and our legal rights. Help us hold our corporate landlords accountable.”

Other states including New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Washington and Oregon have their own versions of "just cause" eviction laws, and the White House’s blueprint for a renters’ bill of rights includes requiring "justified cause" for evictions and notice if a lease will not be renewed.

However, the blueprint doesn’t include the bill's controversial requirement that landlords provide financial assistance for tenants to relocate. 

Nearly two dozen organizations are backing the bill, including Denver Public Schools, ACLU of Colorado, the Colorado Children's Campaign, Mental Health Colorado and the Community Economic Defense Project, where Mabrey works as a staff attorney.

Groups opposing the bill include the Colorado Association of Home Builders, Colorado Landlord Legislative Coalition, Rocky Mountain Home Association and the chambers of commerce of Denver and Colorado Springs.

The bill will next be sent to the Senate for another vote in the coming weeks.